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Similarities and differences: understanding homology and analogy (High School level) :

Studying homologies and analogies

How do scientists figure out if a trait is a homology or an analogy? Biologists use a few criteria to help them decide whether a shared morphological character (such as the presence of four limbs) is likely to be a homology. Here's an example comparing mice and crocodiles:

The same bones (though differently shaped) support the limbs of mice and crocodiles. Same basic structure
The same bones (though differently shaped) support the limbs of mice and crocodiles.

The joint between the femur and the pelvis has a ball-and-socket structure, as shown in this crocodile. Same relationship to other features
The limb bones are connected to the skeleton in similar ways in different tetrapods. The joint between the femur and the pelvis has a ball-and-socket structure, as shown in this crocodile.

Same development
The limbs of all tetrapods develop from limb buds in similar ways.

alligator embryo limb buds mouse embryo limb buds

Of course, these criteria don't always apply — for example, two organisms might share a homologous gene, but the gene doesn't really "develop." However, these criteria are nonetheless useful. By studying the anatomy of a trait in living organisms and in fossils and by observing how the trait grows and changes, biologists can usually find out if a structure in two organisms is analogous or homologous.


Crocodile hip image courtesy of Dave Smith, UCMP; Alligator limb bud image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey/Florida Integrated Science Center, photo by James Basto; Mouse limb bud photo courtesy of the Embryo Images: Normal & Abnormal Mammalian Development website

Homology & Analogy
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